Great Falls Chamber of Commerce 2009 Legislative Session Final Report Prepared by: Ronda Wiggers – lobbyist The Great Falls Chamber did not request that any legislation be brought on their behalf in the 2009 legislative session. We have, instead, offered our support on those bills that we felt would be good for business and our community and opposed those that are not. The Great Falls Chamber joined with the other Chambers in the state and the State Chamber to address the high cost of Worker’s Compensation. Montana is currently #2 in the nation in cost and our injury rates are high in almost every category. We opposed legislation that would potentially increase rates. We supported bills that encouraged workplace safety, return to work incentives and clearly defined when an employee is considered to be at work. The Chamber also participated in the negotiations on the property tax re- appraisal mitigation. The Montana Constitution mandates that we will appraise all property at market value. In order to accomplish this, the legislature has set up a six year cycle in which to re-evaluate property. The values that were arrived at this cycle caused concern. First, the increase in value in the last six years was dramatic (55% statewide) and, second, property values have begun to drop in some areas since the appraisal was completed. State law already limits the amount of actual dollar increase any government entity can receive due to a re-appraisal to one-half of inflation. However, by changing the taxable value on different classes of property, the law can determine how much of that increase is paid by what property owners. This is the basis for the mitigation. In the end, the legislature chose to use the same methodology that has been used in the last two cycles. Although this is not necessarily perfect tax policy – in the big picture, it does shift the burden from west to east and from homeowners to industrial and business property – it was the best option this session. As Great Falls and Cascade County did not see an average increase in value of 55%, the mitigation will actually cause some taxes to slightly go down locally. Remember that the local governments can “float” the mill levy up to collect the same amount of actual dollars. This float will probably create a situation where most of us have virtually no change in our property tax bill due to the re-appraisal. The Chamber was also concerned about the funding level for the local College of Technology. The November version of the Governor’s budget did not fully fund them at current levels and the final submitted budget cut their funds even more. We visited with members of this sub-committee and made them aware that the Chamber and our local business members support fully funding the College of Technology. The Chamber actively supported the use of stimulus money to fund building projects at the College of Technology. The original request was for $2.5 million in order to create a simulated hospital in the basement of the new addition and to build a daycare center on campus. The final allocation was for $1.6 million with the authority to spend up to $2 million if the additional money is raised in private funds. We also offered support in obtaining a number of appropriations for local projects. The following projects are included in appropriations for Great Falls: In HB 5 - Long Range Building, there is $275,000 for MSDB for energy updates to their facilities In HB 6 - Renewable Resource Grants there is $100,000 for the Upper Lower River Road Phase 3 of the Water and Wastewater System and another $100,000 for the Gore Hill County Water District. In HB 7 - Reclamation Grants, there is $300,000 allocated for the old Cascade County Shop area and another $286,792 to the Cascade County Commission for "sustainable water supply from the Madison Aquifer". In HB 9 - Cultural and Aesthetic Grants, the Great Falls Symphony is scheduled to receive $10,000; Paris Gibson $13,900 and the Mansfield Center $5,000. If the funds are available, the History Museum will also get $2,000. From the Treasure State Endowment fund is another $500,000 allocated to the Upper Lower River Road Water and Sewer District. The 2009 session was fairly successful. Virtually all of the bills that we opposed did not become law. However, on the flip side, only some of what we supported passed into law. The following is a list of those bills that we were following. In some cases we offered testimony. In others, we simply spoke to individual legislators about the potential impact the law may have on business. Although some of the titles seem to indicate a good idea, the details of the bill often were onerous to Montana businesses. Bills that the Chamber opposed that did not become law: HB 49 Restrict cell phone use while driving HB 199 Revise allocation of lodging facility use tax HB 252 Sexual orientation/Gender identity in human rights law HB 254 Monitor & report on greenhouse gas emissions HB 435 Close gender wage gap HB 450 Prohibit retaliation over job-related grievances HB 452 Limit health care info subject to Work Comp HB 556 Require verification of work authorization status HB 579 Paid sick leave including for domestic violence as minimum labor standard HB 580 Revise UI benefits and eligibility HB 589 Revise WC on occupational disease issues HB 647 Non resident withholding on sale of real-estate HB 651 Revise tax law SB 36 Revise waters edge provisions of corporate taxes SB 109 Restrictions on outdoor lighting SB 190 Bed tax for heritage sites, etc SB 211 Prevent corps from channeling income to insurance subsidiaries SB 277 Box Store Tax SB 285 Revise attorney fees for medical benefits for WC SB 318 Code of Corporate Responsibility SB 377 Prohibit business expense deduction for unauthorized aliens SB 379 Create offenses concerning unauthorized aliens SB 459 Repeal capital gains tax credit Of course, we did not have all success. There are a few bills that we were working to pass that did not successfully survive the process. Bills we supported that did not survive: HB 64 Repeal termination on coal trust funding for economic development (this bill was replaced with HB 123 by request of the sponsor) HB 148 Clarify work comp going and coming to work status (this bill was tabled so that a better drafted bill could go forward) HB 240 Reduce business equipment tax HB 428 Revise requirements for technology districts HB 440 Small business consideration act HB 547 Small business impact of administrative rules HB 566 Revising environmental impact statement laws SB 218 Tax credit for employers of National Guard members SB 253 Allow tip credit against minimum wage SB 254 Remove inflation index from minimum wage SB 304 Keep our Kids Here tax credit SB 315 Revise Class 8 business equipment tax SB 387 Revise laws related to the Board of Environmental Review SB 398 Revise Workcomp and Unemployment law SB 490 Increase class 8 business equipment tax exemption There are a number of bills that the Chamber supported that successfully became law (or are currently on the Governor’s desk waiting for a signature) Ironically, there are no bills that we actively opposed that became law. HB 71 Repeal sunset of hospital bed This program is important to the hospitals as it creates a 3 to 1 federal dollar match that helps backfill their losses from Medicaid. HB 101 Extend deadlines related to wage w/h in cases of theft This bill extends from 15 to 30 the number of days that an employer has to press charges and withhold wages against an employee accused of theft. HB 123 Extend termination date on coal trust funding for Economic Development programs Although this bill reduces the amount allocated to Growth in Agriculture and the Research & Commercialization fund, it extends the life of the program thru 2019. The Senate restored the original funding for Growth in Ag. The Governor then amendatory vetoed the bill and the conference committee adopted the Governor’s amendments. The bill has been sent back to his desk for signature. HB 128 Revise appropriations for aerospace and tech projects This simply made a technical change to this law that may allow it become a usable program. However, the Governor’s Budget office must “sign off” on any bonding done thru this program. With the current economy, it is not very likely. We did support. HB 483 Revise laws governing BER related to energy projects HB 529 Generally revise MEPA These are the bills that have received all of the recent press. They are an attempt to streamline the permitting process and to mitigate some of the timing issues caused when permits are appealed. The Governor has not yet signed HB 483. Although he did not sign HB 529, he allowed it to become law under the 10 day rule. HB 451 Require disclosure & warranties by builder or developer of new residences This bill is requested by the Homebuilders Assoc. and pretty much does what the title indicates. HB 487 Classify as business inventories certain farm implements & Construction equipment This bill is at the request of the Equipment Dealers Association and is correcting a tax issue that was created by a change in a dept rule. HB 621 Authorize local govt beer & wine license for certain facilities This is allowing the Cascade County fairgrounds to legally take over the liquor license. SB 89 Eliminate sunset for new worker training program This extends a very popular economic development program. Although the program was extended, it was poorly funded. The Legislature allocated just over $3.7 million and it is to be shared with the “re-training” program as well. SB 192 Small business work comp relief This provides small business an opportunity for work comp relief by allowing pooled risk groups and a return on premium based on reduced losses to employers that implement safety incentives. SB 257 Revise Definition of Renewable Energy Resource This will allow the new generation at the hydro plant to be considered in ‘green’ energy calculations. This bill has just been sent thru the process to the Governor’s desk and it will be mid May before we know if it becomes law. SB 371 Clarify applicability of “at work” for work comp Attempts to deal with the recent Supreme Court ruling on when an employee is on work time and when they are on their own time. The Governor issued an amendatory veto on this bill. The conference committee voted to NOT accept the Governor’s amendments and sent it back to him in it’s original form. We will not know until mid- May whether this becomes law. SB 388 Incumbent workforce training This was a successful pilot program in Billings allowing for current workers to be re-trained. The original bill only extended the program to certain regions of the state. We were successful in amending it to include all of the state. SB 503 Montana Economic Stimulus Act This lowers Montana capitol gains taxes when a Montana business is sold if it was held for a number of years. It also encourages the purchase of business equipment that is manufactured and/or assembled in Montana. This has just been sent to the Governor’s desk and we will not know until mid May if it becomes law. There are a number of pieces of legislation that although the Chamber felt they were not necessarily good or bad for local business, if passed, they would make a change in the current law. We simply monitored these bills in order to keep our membership informed of changes in the law. Bills of interest (we did not take a position on these) that died: HB 35 Revolving loan program to fund recycling machinery HB 113 Revise tax of new or expanded business enterprise property HB 143 Nonprofit corporation registry HB 157 Implement healthy kids initiative – funding debate HB 235 Revise limited liability company HB 303 Revise limited liability company act HB 339 Revise limited partnership act HB 347 Revise 3rd party bad faith litigation HB 375 Create a bipartisan committee to evaluate climate change initiative HB 391 Establish criteria for enforceable noncompete agreements HB 396 Limit interest rate on title and deferred deposit loans HB 444 Require prevailing union wage in local govt privatization contracts HB 564 Prohibit local govt competition with private sector HB 582 Green jobs training HB 590 Define domestic partners and establish benefits HB 625 Workers’ freedom act SB 37 Revise income tax credit for energy conservation expenditures SB 142 Repeal unisex insurance law SB 363 Exempt speaking at public function from WC SB 378 Limit WC for unauthorized aliens SB 397 Revise payday & title loan law SB 399 Right to work SB 431 Revise laws on employer drug testing - medical field SJ 10 Study options for state work comp coverage Bills we just monitored to report their outcome to our members that did become law: HB 76 Generally revise unemployment insurance laws – - department revisions HB 119 Revise employment laws, including work comp – - department revisions HB 138 Revise employment safety & occupational health act – - department revisions HJ 15 Study resolution on funding for recreation and tourism enhancement SB 42 Provide substitution procedure for work comp judge SB 132 Clarify taxpayer confidentiality and exchange of info laws among state agencies SB 150 Revise unemployment insurance law – department revisions SB 200 Restrict phosphorous cleaning products in certain areas – - this bill currently pertains mostly to the Missoula area - the product manufacturers were not in opposition SB 260 Revise tax on publicly traded partnerships – - affects only about a dozen companies in Montana - has not yet been signed by the Governor SB 308 Revise calculation of standard prevailing wage rates As you can see, most of the bills that we had in a “monitor only” status, that became law, were department requested changes in worker’s compensation, unemployment or payroll. We will ask an expert in this area to provide an update on these changes at a later date. Voting records for our local legislators are attached. I did not use any of the funding bills as they are large, very encompassing bills and do not necessarily indicate a vote for or against a specific project. I generally used only final, 3rd reading floor votes. A couple of exceptions: First, HB 483 in it’s final version contained the Governor’s amendments. They substantially ‘watered down’ the original bill. For information sake, I provided the 3rd reading vote for the first version as well as the final version. On SB 371 the final house vote on the conference committee report for the Governor’s amendments is more of a procedural vote. I “backed up” and used the 3rd reading vote prior to the Governor’s amendatory veto. That is the version that ended up going to the Governor in the end. I greatly enjoyed representing the Great Falls Chamber this legislative session. Your staff and the Public and Government Affairs committee were great to work with. They provided input and information very promptly and were always willing to make a phone call or write an “official letter” when necessary.
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